Visit Crocodile Hunter’s legacy

SHOWPIECE: The Crocoseum at Australia Zoo is enthralling.

Queensland’s Sunshine Coast offers a flavourful spoil of family-friendly experiences, albeit at a far more relaxed pace than the head-rush of the Gold Coast.

Hop-scotch your way around the compact region’s assortment of sights on a self-drive family roadie.

The legacy of Steve Irwin palpably lives on at Australia Zoo, where his wife Terri and children, Bindi and Robert, live and work.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve and Terri several times on Newstalk ZB before tragedy struck a decade ago. His larger-than-life TV persona wasn’t a case of playing for the cameras. In person, that exuberant charm and passion was just as infectiously electric.

From humble beginnings in the 1990s, the Irwin family have worked hard to make Australia Zoo a world class conservation facility, in addition to its magnetic appeal as a tourist attraction. It’s the intimacy of the animal encounters which makes Australia Zoo such a novel wildlife experience.

Like all good Aussie wildlife parks, you can hand-feed kangaroos and cuddle a koala. Then there’s the up-close experiences with red pandas, otters, wombats, giraffes and spiky echidnas.

The Australia Zoo roving wildlife team also serves up spontaneous photo-posing opportunities, with a veritable menagerie of wildlife, including dingoes, blue-tongue lizards, skinks, pythons, alligators, macaws and cockatoos.

You can be a zoo keeper for a day and go behind-the-scenes to get up close with the animals. But the ultimate walk on the wild side would have to be the opportunity to take a cheetah or a tiger for a walk. Seriously.

Book a hands-on encounter and you’ll be contributing to the zoo’s various projects geared at protecting wildlife, from the jungles of Sumatra to the savannahs of Africa.

The newest attraction is Bindi’s Island, built around her three-storey treehouse, where the ring-tailed lemurs are the big show-stealer. Steve had just started the excavation work for Bindi’s dream treehouse, when he passed away.

But the showpiece attraction is Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors, which roars into life at noon in the Crocoseum. It begins with the free-flight birds of prey that wheel and swoop around the arena before the jaw-snapping drama of the ginormous saltwater crocodiles steal the show.

It’s instructive, enlightening and utterly enthralling. Just like Steve himself, whose spirit seems to live on loudly and proudly throughout this wondrous celebration of wildlife. www.australiazoo.com.au

Treat your kids to the delights of Yandina, a charming subtropical town and home to The Ginger Factory. In 1941, Buderim Ginger set about producing confectionery ginger and 75 years on, they remain the world’s biggest producer.

Alongside the production, the Ginger Factory is swooned over by families for its boutique theme park-style assortment of attractions. I joined a Factory Tour which was brilliantly led by Kelly, bringing to life Buderim Ginger’s backstory and concluding with a fabulous product tasting session.

Don’t miss the ice creamery and a scoop or two of ginger biscuit and ginger cinnamon.

I hopped on board Moreton, the factory’s beloved 115-year old ginger train which tootles through the property’s lush, leafy and impeccably maintained tropical gardens.

The Ginger Factory has also branched out and embraced honeybee production, and their Super Bee educational tours are absolutely riveting, complete with honey tasting.

I finished my frolic through the Ginger Factory by joining the signature family ride, Overboard, which follows the Gingerbread man, around the world. This meandering water adventure ride, which is unmistakably reminiscent of Disney’s It’s a Small World ride, is delightfully presented and even includes animatronic rugby players performing a haka. www.gingerfactory.com.au

The Yandina-Coolum Rd provides a short hop from the Ginger Factory to the sun-splashed, seaside haven of Coolum. Book-ended by rocky headlands and secluded coves, Coolum Beach is a magnet for water lovers, with its long stretch of golden sand and rolling surf.

If your family is up for a sweaty work-out, follow David Low Way south of town, and hike up Mt Coolum, for celestial views across the coastline. The café society is buzzy in Coolum, with some sizzling beachfront nosh spots, none more so than the Coolum Surf Club. The Mooloolaba Prawn and Avocado Salad is my pick.

Directly across the road, the Coolum Caprice is a supreme holiday roost, with ultra-spacious self-contained apartments, overlooking the Norfolk Palms fringing the patrolled area of Coolum Beach.

All apartments are equipped with private balconies and those sublime ocean views. Fully self-contained with open-plan living and dining areas, cook up a storm in your fully equipped kitchen, while the in-room laundry facilities are another welcome attribute.

FAST FACTS

•Coolum Caprice also features a fabulous heated swimming pool, paddling pool, spa and sauna, fitness centre and a games room. The on-site tropical gardens are equipped with barbecue areas that you’re welcome to use when you want. The friendly, outgoing staff, on-site tour desk, complimentary wifi and complimentary undercover parking all help to create a blissful beachfront holiday base. www.coolumcaprice.com.au

•JUCY, a stunning family-owned Kiwi success story, boasts an innovative range of campervans, or ‘campas’, alongside an excellent range of cars, which is what plumped for on my Sunshine Coast roadie. JUCY’s customer service is fast, reliable and friendly with exceptional hire rates and special deals to sweeten your roadie adventure. Ph 0800 399 736 or jump to www.jucy.co.nz

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